Framing the Inquiry

The Anthropocene is a term formulated by Earth Scientists to claim that we have entered a new era in which human influences are so great that they are affecting ‘whole Earth dynamics’ through a range of biophysical and social processes. In a way it is the next step along from Kenneth Boulding’s image of ‘Spaceship Earth’ in recognising the responsibility we humans have in creating a future trajectory or trajectories. Acceptance of human-induced climate change also means acceptance that we are in a period new to human history. This is the issue of our times, perhaps of all times, and thus the greatest challenge for systems thinking in practice – or all human endeavour for that matter.

In establishing this Inquiry we asked that participants not accept our ‘framing’ uncritically. Partipants were invited to do some background reading before arrival in Hannover (and for those who went on to ISSS in Berlin). There is now much written about the Anthropocene – even a new journal.

These two papers are worth reading for contrasting perspectives:

It is not surprising to those of us who are UK or Australian-based that the discourse about the Anthropocene is more developed in a crtically informed way in Germany.  There has been a recent exhibition at the Deutsches Museum in Munich – Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands (2014/2015). Also a major set of activities at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin in 2013 and 2014.

In the latter the claim is that:

“Our notion of nature is now out of date. Humanity forms nature. This is the core premise of the Anthropocene thesis, announcing a paradigm shift in the natural sciences as well as providing new models for culture, politics, and everyday life. In a two-year project, HKW explores the hypothesis’ manifold implications for the sciences and arts.”

Recent German perspectives also include:

Welcome to the Anthropocene« – a 2011 title of »The Economist« initiating a new climate policy debate about mankind and the new »Age of Humans«. Today, the term is not only found in the gazettes, but also in science, politics, and culture. But what lies behind the term and where does it come from? Jürgen Manemann introduces to the debate, points out the dangers of the theory of the anthropocene, and calls for a human ecology that aims at a transformation of civil society towards a »cultural society« (Adrienne Goehler). It is not time for a new humanization of the world, but a deeper humanization of mankind.

An English review of this work by Manemann written by Sandro Luis Schlindwein can be found here: KritiK_des_Anthropozäns_review final

There is also this Blog by Christian Schwaegerl who features in a recent article in The New York Times: Varied Views (Dark, Light, in Between) of Earth’s Anthropocene Age. As does Australian Clive Hamilton.

Regardless of whether one accepts or likes the framing offered by the neologism ‘Anthropocene’ it is clear that the phenomena to which it refers are ‘real’ and in need of transformations in our individual and collective understandings and practices. The extent to which this will include systems and cybernetics (cybersystemic) understandings and practices is the focus of the Inquiry begun at Herrenhausen; it was also a topic of inquiry at ISSS2015 in Berlin.

This systemic inquiry was formulated in the desire to start out in an emotion of hope and with some optimism. We seek to go beyond a reiteration of problems to venture a next step. It is an inquiry putting on display the possibilities that cybersystemic theories and practices provide to meet the challenges of the Anthropocene – of contributing to steering, or governing, viable trajectories of living in the Anthropocene.

5 Responses to Framing the Inquiry

  1. admin says:

    Have a look at this Blog by Andy Stirling for another ‘take’ on some of the issues raised above:

  2. admin says:

    Inquiry participants may be interested in a paper just published in Kybernetes, co-authored by myself and Sandro Schlindwein:

    Ison, R.L. & Schlindwein, S. (2015) Navigating through an ‘ecological desert and a sociological hell’: a cyber-systemic governance approach for the Anthropocene, Kybernetes, (in press)

  3. admin says:

    Here is an Editorial Essay which may be of interest –

    From Mother Pelican, A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability, Vol. 11, No. 10, October 2015 Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor

    This edition also has an essay from Herrenhausen presneter Heiner Benking written with Rob Wheeler – see

  4. Kevin Collins says:

    A new paper in Science by Waters et al., (2016) sets out the case for an official designation of the ‘Anthropocene’ based on evidence relating to human-induced changes in climatic, biological and geochemical signatures in the Earth’s stratigraphy. They suggest we entered the Anthropocene, as distinct from the Holocene, sometime in the mid-C2oth.

    The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene
    Colin N. Waters, Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Summerhayes, Anthony D. Barnosky, Clément Poirier, Agnieszka Gałuszka, Alejandro Cearreta, Matt Edgeworth, Erle C. Ellis, Michael Ellis, Catherine Jeandel, Reinhold Leinfelder, J. R. McNeill, Daniel deB. Richter, Will Steffen, James Syvitski, Davor Vidas, Michael Wagreich, Mark Williams, An Zhisheng, Jacques Grinevald, Eric Odada, Naomi Oreskes, and Alexander P. Wolfe
    Science 8 January 2016: 351 (6269), aad2622 [DOI:10.1126/science.aad2622]

    • Kevin Collins says:

      After 7 years of deliberation, on 29th August, the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA) submitted a recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa to recognise and adopt the Anthropocene as a formal geological period.

      The 35 members of the WGA voted 30-3 (with two abstentions). The approval process will take two years and requires ratification by three other academic bodies. The final decision will be made by International Commission on Stratigraphy

      If adopted, the boundary is likely to be somewhere in the mid-20th century and could use nuclear testing fallout, pollution, or even plastics as indicators. However, for the Anthropocene to be declared as official, the signals must exist in the geological record (rather than, for example, air temperature). Research is now focusing on determining the location, date and type of a key reference point (or ‘golden spike’) as evidence of marking the transition from the Holocene to Anthropocene.

      Irrespective of the detailed science and disputes still to come, the continued debate on the Anthropocene gives further attention to the dynamic and co-evolving relationship between human and biophysical systems. Whether we accept the Anthropocene as a reality or a scientific conspiracy, the unavoidable question remains: what is the right relationship between us and our environment?

      If the Anthropocene Working Group recommendations are accepted, then ‘our’ environment will take on a new, and very direct, meaning. Will the declaration of the Anthropocene also signal a shift in our sense of responsibilities and practices?

      Some links to further reading:

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